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Dossier: Entanglements of Architecture and Comfort beyond the Temperate Zone - 2

Comfort in Australia’s unproductive North and the attendant anxiety of tropical cyclones

Un confort sous la menace des cyclones tropicaux dans le nord réputé improductif de l'Australie
Deborah van der Plaat

Résumés

En 1922, la Commonwealth Bank ouvrit une agence à Cairns, dans le nord du Queensland, à l’angle d’Abbott Street et de Spence Street, non loin de l’Esplanade et du bassin de Trinity. Structure en bois de plain-pied, assemblée par des boulons et rivée au sol par des piliers en béton souterrains, elle fut décrite dans la presse locale comme « résistante aux cyclones » et qualifiée d’édifice en bois le plus solide d’Australie. Rafraîchie par cinquante bouches d’aération et fenêtres, la construction répondait également aux contraintes tropicales et fut décrite comme un « bureau idéal » dans lequel « la santé et le bien-être du personnel ont été pris en compte dans tous leurs aspects essentiels, des luxueux sanitaires au système de ventilation dernier cri ».

Cet article examine la place du confort (la santé et le bien-être physique et psychologique des employés) dans la conception architecturale de la banque (adaptée au contexte tropical et aux risques cycloniques). La Commonwealth Bank fut l’un des premiers exemples de bâtiment commercial conçu pour résister aux cyclones tropicaux, fréquents dans le nord de l’Australie mais encore peu pris en compte dans les constructions de l’époque. Destiné à remplacer une structure plus petite et mal adaptée aux besoins de la banque, le nouveau bâtiment fut aussi conçu en réaction au catastrophique cyclone - le plus puissant que la région ait connu – qui dévasta Cairns et ses environs le 2 février 1920. Le cyclone engendra une importante onde de tempête décrite dans la presse comme un « raz-de-marée » inondant le centre-ville de Cairns, dont Abbott Street où se trouvait la banque. Les propriétés structurelles et les innovations techniques du nouveau bâtiment furent mises au point en réponse directe aux inquiétudes suscitées par cet événement et réveillées lors des saisons cycloniques ultérieures.

Nous verrons aussi que le bâtiment et l’abondante publicité autour de ses innovations étaient partie prenante d’une campagne menée plus largement par la banque (comme d’autres entreprises situées au nord du pays) pour attirer le personnel issu des régions plus fraîches du sud de l’Australie (Brisbane, Sydney et Melbourne), tout particulièrement les hommes (à des postes de managers ou de comptables) mariés avec enfants. Promettant à la fois sécurité et confort à ses employés et leurs familles, la banque cherchait aussi à contrer l’idée répandue selon laquelle le nord de l’Australie était une région inhospitalière, vouée à rester faiblement peuplée et exploitée. La banque y est parvenue en promouvant au niveau national la qualité de vie de ses employés (notamment les activités sportives), les performances climatiques de ses bâtiments et les innovations techniques qui leur permettaient de résister aux cyclones.

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Introduction

  • 1 William Coote, “The Influence of Climate on our Domestic Architecture, Paper read by Mr. W. Coote, (...)
  • 2 “Cairns Branch, New Building,” Bank Notes, Monthly Newsletter of the Commonwealth Bank, December 1 (...)
  • 3 “Cyclone Proof: The new Commonwealth Bank in Cairns,” Northern Herald, 22 November 1922, p. 36.

1Comfort in the architecture of southeast Queensland (Australia) in the early decades of the twentieth century focused on the capacity of the home to support healthy and productive citizens by providing cool, well ventilated, and shady spaces equipped with effective systems of sanitation.1 This paper will consider the extension of this idea into tropical (or Far North) Queensland as demonstrated by two buildings: the new Commonwealth Bank Building in Cairns completed in 1922 (fig. 1); and the residence built by the manager of the Townsville branch of the same bank around 1925. The appeal of each building, it will be argued, was a new level of comfort suitable for the tropical north that each building promoted. Partly achieved through effective ventilation, ample shade and good sanitation, equal importance, it will be argued, was also placed on building resilience, the capacity to withstand tropical cyclones and the storm surges they often created. When first opened, the Cairns bank was reported in the local press as: “cooled by fifty exhaust vents and simplex windows,” which produced the “ideal office interior” in which the “health and fitness of the staff have been [fully] considered in all essentials from first class sanitation to an up-to-date ventilation system.”2 The same article also made clear, however, that the comfort of the staff was also dependent on the capacity of the building to withstand local cyclones and tropical storms. It described how the new structure was “bolted together,” pinned to the ground by sunken concrete piers, and “cyclone proof,” proclaiming it the strongest timber building in Australia.3

Figure 1: Commonwealth Bank, Cairns (Australia), 1922, Corner of Abbott and Spence Street.

Figure 1: Commonwealth Bank, Cairns (Australia), 1922, Corner of Abbott and Spence Street.

Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0009, 1BP-2-108-5.

  • 4 Townsville is 347 km south of Cairns. The most southern Australian state (and former colony) is Ta (...)
  • 5 Henry Thomas Buckle, “Chapter II,” in History of Civilization in England, Cambridge: Cambridge Uni (...)
  • 6 Rob Dusting and Sandi Robb, “Extreme beginnings: the effect of cyclones on the development of Inni (...)

2Cairns and Townsville are both located in tropical, Far North Queensland, approximately 1683 km north of Brisbane (the subtropical capital of Queensland), 2416 km north of Sydney (the capital of New South Wales, subtropical to temperate), and 2945 km north of Melbourne, the temperate capital of Victoria, the southernmost state on the Australian mainland.4 Today Cairns is best known as the gateway for international tourists to the Great Barrier Reef. In 1920, both Cairns and Townsville were frontier settlements located in the remote Australian tropics, ripe for development as new railway links to the southern capitals were nearing completion. Two obstacles, however, stood in the way: the region’s tropical climates, believed by many to be unsuitable for European settlement and their exposure in the wet season (November to April) to tropical cyclones, and the storm surges that accompanied them. The destruction regularly caused by the tropical climate and storms were seen as an additional hindrance to stable settlement and economic development.5 While cyclones were common to the area, legislation to improve building resilience was minimal in Far North Queensland in the early 1920s, and while modifications were introduced, they were normally informal and self-motivated, and limited to a small group of local builders.6 The ideal of comfort developed by the Commonwealth Bank in their two buildings, it will be argued, was a response to both these issues.

The unproductive North

  • 7 Mark Harrison, Climates and Constitutions: Health, Race and Environment and British Imperialism in (...)
  • 8 The shift to free settlement was made necessary by the cessation of convict transportation from Br (...)
  • 9 Moreton Bay (present day Brisbane) was established in 1824 as a “site of secondary punishment” int (...)
  • 10 Thomas Griffith Taylor, “Australia’s Future Population,” The Morpeth Review, no. 4, June 1928; Ide (...)
  • 11 Ibid., p. 5-6; “Australia’s Millions: Where Will they Settle? Professor Taylor on the Future of Au (...)

3Climatic determinism and the “western” anxiety surrounding tropical climates, identified as impediments to European settlement, racial autonomy, and economic development, are associated with the British and European colonization of India and Africa from the 17th to the 19th century.7 The impact of climatic determinism in Australia, occupied by the British in 1788 and federated in 1901, is less well known. While Australia’s temperate climates were promoted internationally to attract suitable (British) migration as the Australian colonies pivoted from penal to free settlement, strong reservations regarding the colony’s tropical regions remained.8 Declared a free settlement in 1842,9 and an independent colony (from NSW) in 1859, this was particularly problematic for Queensland’s tropical and subtropical climates and where half its geographical territory lay north of the Tropic of Capricorn. The Australian geographer Thomas Griffith Taylor (1880-1963), best known for his “climographs,” global comparisons of climate and rainfall used to predict population patterns, equated the Queensland tropics with those of Asia. In 1928 he argued that the climate of Townsville was equal to Calcutta, Brisbane to Hong Kong, and Sydney to Shanghai. Melbourne, the most southerly capital city on the mainland of Australia, was given a European counterpart, the city of London. On Griffith’s scale of four types of discomfort (including raw, muggy, scorching, and keen), Melbourne’s climate is identified as “ideal” and at the center of an area “most habitable for the white race” (fig. 2). Townsville, on the other hand, located in Tropical Queensland, was labeled as “usually uncomfortable,” occupying regions that were “muggy,” and unlikely to support a comfortable or productive lifestyle.10 This was a thesis that he went on to develop in a number of publications.11

Figure 2: Climographs for Australia showing how the localities approach the four types a discomfort. The shade climographs show the most habitable for the white race.

Figure 2: Climographs for Australia showing how the localities approach the four types a discomfort. The shade climographs show the most habitable for the white race.

Source: Thomas Griffith Taylor, “Geographical factors controlling the settlement of tropical Australia,” Queensland Geographical Journal, vol. 32-33, no. 18-19, 1918.

  • 12 For an overview of the debate see: David Walker, “The Curse of the Tropics,” in Tim Sherratt, Tom (...)
  • 13 “Character and Race,” Brisbane Courier, 8 February 1896, p. 4.
  • 14 R. W. Cilento, The White Man in the Tropics, with Especial Reference to Australia and its Dependen (...)
  • 15 Ibid., p. 5.

4Such anxieties were long standing.12 In 1896, one writer described the settlement of Queensland in the mainstream press as an “experiment of momentous character” and questioned the “influence of a climate, subtropical to tropical, on a race migrating from a climate temperate to cold.” The author asked whether “so great a transition can be made without more or less influencing the characteristics of the race?”13 Agreeing that the settlement of Queensland was a living and “unconscious experiment” in acclimatization, the interest of this community for Dr Raphael Cilento, Director of the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine, lay however not in its potential decline but rather in its success. Families within the region, he argued in White Man in the Tropics (1925), show no “disability from climate.” “Nor is the fertility of the women lessened” or are “the children in any sense handicapped.” The product of large families, the physical ability, stature, weight and mental reactions of the children all compared favorably, Cilento argued, with those born in temperate climates.14 Queensland, he continued had the “distinction of having bred up” over the course of seventy years “a large, resident, pure-blooded white population under tropical conditions, approximately 103,000 along the eastern coast of Queensland alone.”15 Collectively, this community, “some of them the second and third generation,” represented for Cilento the largest population of white Europeans settled in any part of the tropical world (fig. 3).

Figure 3: “Sure Proof of a White Race Living and Thriving in the Queensland Tropics. Group of Sugar Growers and Families, Innisfail, North Queensland.”

Figure 3: “Sure Proof of a White Race Living and Thriving in the Queensland Tropics. Group of Sugar Growers and Families, Innisfail, North Queensland.”

Source: plate 33 of Sunny Queensland: Its Scenic Charms, Industrial Activities, and Tropical Grandeur, Brisbane: Government Printer, 1926, n.p. Image courtesy of Fryer Library, The University of Queensland, St Lucia (Australia).

  • 16 Ibid.
  • 17 Raymond Evans, A History of Queensland, op. cit. (note 9), p. 173-175; Warwick Anderson, The Culti (...)
  • 18 R. W. Cilento, The White Man in the Tropics, op. cit. (note 14), p. 5.

5The success of white settlement in Australia’s northern tropics could be attributed to two factors, Cilento suggested. The first was the “relative absence of tropical diseases and … [a] resident native race.”16 While Cilento failed to elaborate on this point in any detail in this early publication, his later writings indicate that he associated the former with the latter and viewed the success of the European within the north (and Australia more generally) as being dependent on its segregation from indigenous populations.17 This absence, Cilento argued, also generated the second condition for the white man’s success in the Australian tropics; the necessity to undertake “every occupation, from the work of the labourer to the highest intellectual pursuits.”18

  • 19 Ibid., p. 50.

The one feature in common with all these colonies where success is recorded is that the residents worked, and worked hard, and it is probable, that, far from being an impossibility for the white man, work is the factor which will render it ultimately possible for him to adapt himself entirely to his new [tropical] environment.19

  • 20 Ibid., p. 74.
  • 21 Ibid., p. 73-74.

6According to Cilento, the gradual adaptation and acclimatization of the British body to the northern tropics had generated a new racial type. “The [white] race,” he argued, was “in a transition stage and it is very apparent that there is being evolved … a distinctive tropical type, adapted to life in the tropical environment in which it is set.”20 He identified the outcome of this process as the “North Queenslander,” a viable example of a “tropical born [white] Australian.” (fig. 4)21

Figure 4: Typical tropical-born Queenslander of third resident generation.

Figure 4: Typical tropical-born Queenslander of third resident generation.

Source: R. W. Cilento, The White Man in the Tropics With Especial Reference to Australia and its Dependencies, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia Department of Health, 1925 (Service Publication, Tropical Division, 7), fig. 7, p. 73.

  • 22 Raymond Evans, A History of Queensland, op. cit. (note 17), p. 97-99.
  • 23 W. A. Osborne, “The Physiological Factors on the Development of an Australian Race,” The Medical J (...)

7Cilento found support for his theory in the earlier writings of W. A. Osborne, Professor of Physiology at Melbourne University. In a paper delivered to the 11th meeting of the Australasian Medical Congress (Brisbane, 1920) titled “The Physiological Factors in the Development of an Australian Race,” Osborne argued that the adult male could remain healthy in the tropics if he maintained a healthy lifestyle and worked hard. However, he went on to describe the white woman and child as the “weakest links” in the chain of humanity in the tropics and while he harbored doubts over the health of women, the “chances of the white child growing up normal were even more doubtful.” Osborne argued that the acclimatization to the Australian tropics of white women and children required additional assistance. This could be achieved in two ways. Ensuring white women and children were protected from “tropical disease,” which for Osborne and later Cilento, was dependent on the “separation” and segregation of settler and indigenous communities (who were being displaced and moved into missions and camps at the time).22 Secondly, appropriate housing for this segment of the population was necessary. Have white women in the tropics, Osborne asked, “been allowed… to keep healthy owing to household conditions”? Were there better models for housing than the “corrugated iron shack that one sees far too frequently?”23

  • 24 R. W. Cilento, The White Man in the Tropics, op. cit. (note 14), p. 39.
  • 25 Ibid., p. 124.

8Cilento appears to have agreed with Osborne. Two factors, he suggested, could limit the capacity of the white woman to acclimatize to her tropical life in Far North Queensland: a sedentary life in which every form of exercise was avoided; and, at the other end of the scale, fatigue caused by excessive levels of physical labor. Neurasthenia would continue to occur in women, Cilento suggested, who otherwise “pass the borders of physical resiliency” when they were exposed to “unjustifiable labor, day in day out, in grossly hot, ill ventilated, and ill built kitchens.”24 The Queensland housewife, Cilento argued, needed to demand housing that not only provided “shelter” and “accommodation” but more importantly, housing which also “ensured comfort.”25

Comfort extended

  • 26 The Commonwealth Bank, a government-owned enterprise, was established in 1911.
  • 27 See image of Cairns in Bank Notes, August 1933.
  • 28 Sydney (Australia), Reserve Bank Archives: Sydney/AC-a-2, Actuary’s Amalgamation Negotiation, Gove (...)

9In 1920, the Commonwealth Bank merged with the Queensland Government Savings Bank,26 and in the process, acquired the branch building of the old Savings bank in Cairns. This was a small timber building located on the corner of Abbott and Spence Street, one block back from the Esplanade.27 Measuring 45 by 25 feet and roofed in galvanized iron (fig. 5), the single-story structure was shared with the Queensland State Government Insurance Office (GIO). Valued at £400 by bank auditors, the structure had also been the first police office for the city of Cairns.28

Figure 5: First Commonwealth Bank Building, formerly Queensland State Savings Bank, Cairns (Australia), 1921.

Figure 5: First Commonwealth Bank Building, formerly Queensland State Savings Bank, Cairns (Australia), 1921.

Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, IBP-2-108-5[2].

  • 29 “Cairns Branch,” Bank Notes, October 1921, n. p.
  • 30 Letter from the State Government Insurance Office to Sir Denison Miller, Governor of the Commonwea (...)

10Despite its location in the humid tropics, the first bank building possessed few concessions to the region’s climate, and as a result, was deemed unfit by many of its occupants. An image dated 1921, published in Bank Notes—the Commonwealth Bank’s national newsletter— reveals the building possessed a single roof vent and rudimentary canvas blinds (most likely temporary) strung between the front verandah posts (fig. 6).29 It is unlikely that such improvements (permanent or makeshift) had any significant impact on the comfort of the building’s occupants. On June 8, 1920, the Commissioner of the GIO wrote to the new Governor of the Bank, Sir Denison Miller, petitioning him to extend the building, or to rebuild, as soon as possible. Noting that his “main anxieties” were for the offices in Townsville and Cairns, he went on to explain that he could not keep his “staff working under the present conditions” and within the existing buildings “much longer without risk of serious injury to their health.”30

Figure 6: Bank Notes, October 1921. Building moved to temporary site showing temporary external blinds/curtains.

Figure 6: Bank Notes, October 1921. Building moved to temporary site showing temporary external blinds/curtains.

Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0270, 1ST-23-1-35.

  • 31 Sydney (Australia), Reserve Bank of Australia Archives: Cairns/CS-a-7-1920-25, Memorandum, Bank Pr (...)

11His request was soon heeded. In an undated bank memorandum, an inspector for the Bank recommends to head office (Sydney) that a new building be erected in Cairns. The existing building, he argued, was small, lacked the strongroom required, and was short on accommodation for the bank’s staff. Local resources, he also explained, could support the construction of a new building. Describing local architects and builders as reliable and “capable of the work to be done” he also noted that appropriate materials were locally available and would not need to be shipped in at great expense: “bricks were only 7 miles away by rail,” as was concrete, and there was an ample supply of local timber. The inspector favored the use of concrete, identifying it as the most appropriate to the requirements of the region and specifying that local builders “were familiar with this [type of] work.” He also went on to suggest that the “main floor” of the building be elevated well above the ground “on account of sea water reaching the street during a [recent] cyclone.”31 Constructed by local contractor T. B. O’Meara, the new building was completed in 1922.

  • 32 “Cyclone Proof: The new Commonwealth Bank in Cairns,” op. cit. (note 3), p. 36.

12The opening of the Commonwealth Bank in Cairns represented an important milestone in the city’s much anticipated growth and development. Thus, it is not surprising that the new building was covered by the mainstream press where it was described as “a piece of magnificent workmanship and interior design.”32

  • 33 Ibid.

The whole of the timber used in the building is exceptionally strong, for instance the studs supporting the roof principals are 8 inches square and have been cased with quarter cut and highly polished silky oak, making quite a feature of the inside finish. All framing has been properly fitted, thoroughly braced and bolted, and the building left in as cyclone-proof a state as it is possible to make… The external sheeting is all of picked white beech, this timber being noted for its lasting properties (fig. 7).33

Figure 7: Commonwealth Bank Building, Cairns (Australia), 1921, under construction.

Figure 7: Commonwealth Bank Building, Cairns (Australia), 1921, under construction.

Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0009, 1BP-2-108-5.

  • 34 Ibid.

13Additional innovations of the building were also explained. The main floor was raised three feet above the footpath and reached by a series of “ironite finished stairs for the full length of each frontage.” Special consideration was also given to the foundations of the building. These were, the newspaper tells us, “solid concrete, highly reinforced in the latest and most approved manner, and… built so that at any future date a two-or-three-storey brick or concrete building may be erected without interfering with the floor or foundation.” The building was in turn surrounded by a verandah, supported on concrete piers, which continued around the two street frontages. The main entrance to the building was clearly articulated by a “concrete entablature and parapet,” all of which were heavily reinforced.34

  • 35 Ibid.

14Comfort, and the capacity to achieve it in the tropics, also appear to have motivated the construction of the new building and its coverage in the mainstream press, which described the improvement in office conditions as bringing “considerable relief to bank staff, who can hardly claim to have been working under ideal conditions in the old premises on Anzac Park.” The banking chamber was now “light and pleasantly cool,” a permanent current of fresh air was kept in circulation by “fifty odd ventilators” and “wide simplex windows,” which could fully open with little to no obstruction (fig. 8a). The introduction of these simple technical innovations, “ensured the offices,” were, “without doubt the finest… in North Queensland.” 35

Figure 8a: Commonwealth Bank Archives, Sydney (Australia). Interior 1949.

Figure 8a: Commonwealth Bank Archives, Sydney (Australia). Interior 1949.

Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0009, 1BP-2-108-5.

  • 36 Ibid.

15Aesthetics were also important. The finish and detailing of the branch building, and their suitability to the tropical context, were also highlighted. The interiors were described as “open and spacious” with plenty of room for both staff and the public (fig. 8b). A long writing ledge was provided for the public along the inside of the Abbott Street frontage, while ample counter space was available for four bank tellers. Lined throughout with “heavy durabestos (fire resistant) sheeting,” the interior was broken into panels of varying sizes by silk oak batons. The cornices, picture molds and double sunk skirting were also finished in silky oak while a counter, made of “specially cut maple,” ran the full length of the banking chamber.36

Figure 8b: Commonwealth Bank Archives, Sydney (Australia). Banking counter 1949.

Figure 8b: Commonwealth Bank Archives, Sydney (Australia). Banking counter 1949.

Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0009, 1BP-2-108-5.

  • 37 Ibid.

16Finally, it was also reported that “the drainage, sewerage and sanitation system were all up-to-date” and “were complete in every detail.” A full sewage system, it was explained, was “an example in Cairns,” and had been erected by the “southern firm Messrs. Roper and Moore.” A fire- and burglar- proof strong room were also incorporated into the premises; “the door alone weighing 1 ton 17 cwt,” and costing “in the vicinity of £500.”37

Tropical Cyclones and attendant anxieties38

  • 38 “Cairns,” Bank Notes, May 1924, p. 7.
  • 39 “Cyclone in the North. Port Douglas Practically Demolished. Extensive Damage at Cairns,” Warwick D (...)
  • 40 “Havoc in the North. Damage, £150,000. Horseman Washed Away,” Telegraph (Brisbane), 6 February 192 (...)

17The design of the 1922 bank building was the result of two factors: the first being the catastrophic cyclone that hit Cairns on February 2, 1920 and the “wave” that followed. The cyclone, which unexpectedly hit in the early hours of February 2, between 1 and 3 am, with winds reaching 90 miles per hour, was also accompanied by the highest tides of the year and generated a significant storm surge that pushed the water from Trinity Bay over the concrete wall of the Esplanade into the Cairns business district. Described in a number of press reports as a “tidal wave,”39 over 4 feet of water (1.2 meters) gushed over the sea wall, while up to 2 feet of water (60 cm) extended back into the city up to Abbott Street, causing significant flooding of buildings and damage to roads and fences.40 At daylight, a “scene of devastation” awaited the citizens of Cairns. The local newspaper the Telegraph reported that:

  • 41 Ibid.

The esplanade was strewn with debris, fallen trees and broken limbs. Many shade trees on the esplanade had been uprooted. In the case of others, just bare trunks were left. The only building that escaped along the northern end of the esplanade was the Soldiers’ Rest Home. Some buildings were almost entirely ruined, others were partially damaged. Fully one foot of water covered allotments in places. The Strand Hotel was awash for over two hours. Mr. Scott, C.P.S., his wife and infant, had a trying time — spending the night under the protection of a fence. Portions of the police magistrate’s residence were blown off, and other parts were damaged. The Aquatic Club’s pavilion was so damaged that a new building will be necessary. Some of the boats were destroyed.41

  • 42 Ibid.
  • 43 Ibid.

18Abbott Street, the location of the newly acquired Commonwealth bank building, was described as “a pitiable sight, being strewn with the remains of trees,” which had been planted by the municipal council “to decorate the town” (fig. 9).42 Boats in the harbor had sunk and the Church of England was described as “a heap of ruins,” while a number of houses had been “blown to pieces” or “blown down.” Others were severely damaged. Surrounding regions were also hit hard. The cyclone had travelled over Port Douglas and inland as far as Chillagoe. Port Douglas was described as “practically demolished.” Reportedly, only one house was left standing in the town of Thornborough. The railway line connecting a number of northern towns, including Mulligan, Dimbulah, and Innisfail, was washed away in several locations, while crops were extensively damaged. Deaths, however, were reported to be few with “local identity” Captain Corbett drowned as he attempted to bring his boat back to port. The cost of the cyclone to Cairns was estimated to be £60,000. For Far North Queensland, it was estimated to be over £150,000.43

Figure 9: 1920, English, Photograph edition: Tidal wave waters in Abbott Street, Cairns (Australia), after cyclone.

Figure 9: 1920, English, Photograph edition: Tidal wave waters in Abbott Street, Cairns (Australia), after cyclone.

Tidal wave waters in Abbott Street, Cairns (Australia), after cyclone, showing boats sheltering in temporary havens. People congregate in the street and wade through the waters. A horse drawn carriage passes in front of the shops on the left. Some tree-damage is seen on the right (Description supplied with photograph).

Source: Brisbane (Australia), State Library of Queensland, oai:bishop.slq.qld.gov.au:167207. Former digital ID: picqld-2003-03-11-13-20. Negative number: 15809.

  • 44 Ibid.

19The damaged caused by the cyclone, however, was recognized to be not only physical but also psychological. The Telegraph reported that an unidentified man had committed suicide on the Esplanade on the evening following the cyclone, but it was unclear if the two events were related.44 In the weeks after the event, its impact on the people of Far North Queensland, and the terror it evoked, was examined by a number of publications. On February 11, 9 days after the cyclone had devastated the region, the writer of the women’s page for the Northern Herald suggested that women were particularly hard hit by such events. Writing under the pseudonym of Juvena, the author argued that:

  • 45 Juvena, “Women suffer the Most,” (Women”s Column) Northern Herald (Cairns, Qld), 11 February 1920, (...)

It is upon the women that the burden of suffering generally falls, and in the dreaded cyclone which swept over Cairns on Monday night, the hearts of women received their full measure of anguish. What awful fear must have thronged the thoughts of mothers with children peacefully sleeping, while outside the maddened elements swept and tore with fiendish glee, shaking the houses from side to side, as a growling dog toys with its bone.45

20Juvena goes on to argue that it was the “unexpectedness” of the cyclone and the inability of Cairns’s citizens to prepare for the storm that “added to the general horror” of the event.

  • 46 Ibid.

No descriptive powers could paint a picture holding one half of the terror endured in that awful night. […] Peaceful citizens went to rest at the usual hour, not heeding the overcast sky which had been so low for the last few weeks. And then, with the wind gradually growing louder […] in its intensity they awoke chilled with the presentment of coming tragedy […] White faced women stole through their homes fearing for their husbands; sons, and brothers, who went manfully to the task of securing the home against the unwelcome visitor. And then the sickening fear as the wind tore the iron from the roofs. Sporting it playfully in the air, as a summer breeze gambles with a fallen leaf. The shaking and creaking of the house as it struggled gallantly against its opponent, moaning, as if [endowed] with human feeling. The culmination of terror, when as roofs and verandahs gave suddenly away, they stole out into the awful night for shelter, while death stalked mockingly near in search of victims.46

21Recognizing the significance of the high-velocity winds and the destruction they promised, the power of the storm surge and the threat to life that it represented was also acknowledged: “Could any worse terror be devised than that which the occupants of the bath house went through,” Juvena asked:

  • 47 Ibid.

not only battling with the elements, but shrinking in horror from the merciless waves, sweeping greedily into the living rooms? And then, when the rocking of the doomed house told them of their imminent peril, they stole out into the shrieking night… only to see their dwelling place, holding all their dearest possessions, disappear into the hungry maws of the sea.47

22Adding to the city’s anxiety was the awareness that such storms were not one-off events, but regular, frequent, and seasonal. This fact was made clear to the Australian nation on March 9, 1920, when the Melbourne paper The Argus published a letter to the editor from the Bishop of Townsville, a city to the south of Cairns. Petitioning the population of Australia’s southern states to come to the aid of their northern neighbors, the Bishop sought funds to rebuild five churches that were destroyed by the Cairns cyclone. This destruction, however, was made worse by coming on the tail of earlier events that were equal in their devastation. He wrote:

This diocese has suffered severely from these tropical disturbances during the last three years. The Mackay cyclone of January 20, 1918, and the Innisfail cyclone of March that same year, did tremendous damage and wrecked many churches. These districts have to a great extent recovered, and all the smaller churches have been rebuilt. We are now again in trouble...

23He continued that the “wooden church of St John’s at Cairns, which is 40 years old, is completely wrecked.” Even more serious, however, was the loss of the Yarrabah mission at Cape Grafton, where:

  • 48 “Appeal for Churches Destroyed,” Argus, 9 March 1920, p. 8.

All the crops are destroyed entailing most serious scarcity of food. Pasture, in which valuable medicinable herbs were being cultivated are 2 feet under the sand, the result of a tide far exceeding all its records. The mission buildings were nearly all unroofed, stores, furniture and personal property being greatly damaged, and many native houses are gone. Two newly built jetties are destroyed. The need for immediate relief to procure food is very urgent.48

24Plans, the Bishop explained, had already been prepared for the rebuilding of St John’s. The earlier wooden church would be replaced with a new structure built of “ferrous concrete” in preparation for the next cyclone. The nave was to be built first to provide accommodation for the congregation as quickly as possible. The remainder of the church would follow. The Bishop appears to have been successful in his fund-raising attempts. In 1926, the foundation stone for the new concrete church was laid and the building was dedicated on January 23, 1927.49 Sixteen days later, however, on February 9, 1927, another tropical cyclone crossed the coast just north of Cairns, triggering a tropical rain depression. Damage was extensive (fig. 10).50 Fortunately, the new concrete church of St John’s survived nevertheless.

Figure 10: Bank Notes, March 1927, showing destruction of most recent cyclone in Cairns.

Figure 10: Bank Notes, March 1927, showing destruction of most recent cyclone in Cairns.

Source: Australia (Sydney), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0270, 1ST-23-1-100.

  • 51 R. Dusting and S. Robb, “Extreme beginnings: the effect of cyclones on the development of Innisfai (...)

25Extreme cyclonic weather was an accepted and inherent part of life in North Queensland. Heritage architect Rob Dusting and historian Sandi Robb have argued that the public response to cyclones in Queensland post 1859 can “only be measured by the lack of structural changes that were made” and the limited number of building regulations that were introduced. While there were some significant exceptions, such as the Government Telegraph Office in Cardwell, which was fitted in 1890 with “knee bracing bolted between the bearer and the stumps,” for the most part “settlers re-erected their dwellings and commercial building as they always had.” When improvements were made, they were often informal and self-motivated. 51

  • 52 Ibid., p. 6-7. Dusting and Robb argue that continuing amendments to the Act in 1924, 25, 27 and 29 (...)

26By 1918, following a particularly devastating cyclone in Townsville, the changes needed to improve safety and building resilience were called for at both community and government levels. Municipal Councils were encouraged to introduce “building By-Laws to protect the public” that would standardize building quality and reduce the costs of rebuilding within the community. Amending the Local Authority Act of 1902, local councils could now divide their cities and towns into first- and second-class areas, ensuring that in the former, only fireproof materials could be used. The Local Authority Act was amended first in 1910, and then in 1922, the same year the Cairns branch of the Commonwealth Bank was completed. The move towards reinforced concrete structures was also considered a practical approach by local builders to ensure the desired fire and cyclone protection for commercial and public buildings. In 1923, over 15 reinforced concrete buildings were underway in Cairns alone.52 The Commonwealth Bank Building was an innovative combination of the timber tradition and concrete.

A problem for all Australians

  • 53 R. W. Cilento, White Man in the Tropics, op. cit. (note 14); Thomas Griffith Taylor, “Tropical Pro (...)
  • 54 Letter from L. K. Adams, acting manager of the Townsville Branch to the Governor, Commonwealth Ban (...)

27The second debate informing the design of the bank was the question of whether Australia’s tropical north could be successfully settled and developed. Discussion was initially focused on agricultural settlement and domestic housing.53 The 1922 Commonwealth Bank building and its promotion, however, demonstrates that it was also a concern for commercial enterprises moving into the tropical north. The institution limited “tropical postings” to the north to a two-year period.54 The Bank also actively promoted the tropical lifestyles supported by the region’s climates (and landscapes) through its national newsletter Bank Notes, presumably to entice a professional workforce from southern to northern branches. Both suggest an awareness of debates surrounding the tropics in Australia in the 1920s and the challenges it was believed to hold for the white worker. Confirmation that the bank was fully conversant with these ideas is found in 1924, in the December issue of Bank Notes. Here the commentator, excited about the opening of a new train line that would connect Brisbane to Cairns, also rejects the idea of the “unproductive North,” and the viability of its settlement and development. He writes:

  • 55 “Cairns,” Bank Notes, December 1924, p. 36. Due to their European origin, Southern Italians were a (...)

Before the Christmas Bank Notes is printed, the Northern Mail train will be running between Brisbane and Cairns. What changes have come to pass in half a century! Can we, like Brunton Stephens, look ahead to see the empty space of the North filled with the homes and busy cities of white people—indeed, a land of abundance? Or, do we look to see this country of unbounded possibilities ruled and misled by the progeny of derelicts from Southern Europe? Two visions—one splendid, one abhorrent. Which? This is a problem for all Australians—bankers, merchants, producers, politicians, the men of the land and the man in the street. The “land of the Sun” is not yet: but she is Nigh.55

28Just months prior to the publication of Cilento’s White Man in the Tropics (1925), the Commonwealth Bank promoted the idea of successful settlement and development of Australia’s north by a professional workforce of European and British descent. The parallels in the article with Cilento’s thesis continue. In a manner that pre-empts Cilento’s idea of the evolution of a new racial type—the North Queenslander or white tropical male—whose acclimatization was dependent on labor and physical activity—the male staff of the Cairns branch (who are named in the article) are shown in photos, not as men who work behind desks, but as athletic sportsmen who participate in diving, swimming, cycling, golfing, and fishing (fig. 11). The connection of the staff of the Cairns branch to sports and outdoor recreation was a theme that was to continue in Bank Notes for many years. In 1927, the correspondent for Cairns wrote:

  • 56 “Italians in North Queensland,” Queensland Historical Atlas: histories, cultures, landscapes. URL: (...)

In spite of the very severe summer which we are experiencing, the humid temperatures that were obtained over the Christmas period, members of the staff spent the holidays in a pleasurable manner. Our crack fisherman, Mr. Dean spent most of his time on the Barrier Reef. Messrs. Scanlan and McMahan were busy attending to Life Saving duties at Yorkeys’ Knob and Double Island Beaches (no casualties), whilst another battalion journeyed to Yungaburra, on the tableland.56

Figure 11: “Cairns,” Bank Notes, December 1924.

Figure 11: “Cairns,” Bank Notes, December 1924.

Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0270, 1ST-23-1-73, p. 36.

29These entries were often written at Christmas time, a Christian holiday that had long been associated with a climate that was temperate to cold, and traditions that translated poorly to a southern hemisphere summer, especially one in the Australian tropics. In December 1922, the same year the new branch building was completed, the author of the “Cairns Note” wrote:

  • 57 “Cairns,” Bank Notes, December 1922, n. p.

For us Mr. Edit there will be no Yuletide logs or open fires during the festive season, but in their stead, the scorching heat of summer sun and surf-worn beaches. We desire to convey to our comrades of other Branches the usual message of good cheer and would ask them to remember when they are devouring huge quantities of Christmas pudding that we are satisfying our appetites with a proportionate amount of watermelon.57

Figure 12: “Cairns,” Bank Notes, December 1922.

Figure 12: “Cairns,” Bank Notes, December 1922.

Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0270, 1ST-23-1-49.

30While the men of the Cairns branch continued to be represented as athletic and virile, the women of the branch, who also participated in outdoor activities, were described as undertaking more sedate and less challenging pastimes. They were shown, alongside the men, as participating in sightseeing expeditions or visiting the natural wonders of the region. In fact, these were described in Bank Notes as being so prolific and spectacular that they more than made up for the discomforts caused by the region’s climates.

  • 58 “Cairns,” Bank Notes, April 1921, n. p.

We would like to impress upon our Southern friends that the climate of the North is better than they consider it, and we have the pleasure in declining the sympathy so graciously extended when news of a northern transfer comes through. The scenery surrounding us is unequalled in any part of Australia. We are only an hour’s journey from the famous Barron Falls which are beyond doubt the finest in the Commonwealth. Most of our staff have visited them recently on account of the abundance of rain causing the falls to semi-flood. The trip is really wonderful. The train taking you within a few feet of the Falls, also passing very close to others on the way up onto the range. The building of the railway is rather a clever feat of engineering passing through no less than fifteen tunnels, mostly built through rock.58

  • 59 “Cairns,” Bank Notes, March 1927, p. 22.
  • 60 “Stubborn Strongroom Door,” Bank Notes, June 1929, p. 33.

31The rationale underlying such commentary is clear. The Commonwealth Bank, seeking to attract staff to its northern branches, actively disseminated the idea that a comfortable, healthy lifestyle could be had in the Australian tropics; a thesis that was echoed in the 1920s in the writings of Cilento and the Australian Medical Board. The newsletter, however, also acknowledged those aspects of the region’s climate that were more difficult to avoid, including cyclones, their associated storm surges and flooding. In 1927, in the March issue of Bank Notes, the damage from the most recent cyclone and its impact on the bank was carefully documented. It was explained that a number of boarding houses in Cairns that provided accommodation for many of the bank’s staff were “obliged to shut down” due to the flooding and damage caused by the cyclone. It was also noted, that while “Cairns’ folk have had a most trying and fearful experience” they were advancing with “braced heart and strong hands” and were “stoutly moving to put their city, once again, in a normal state.”59 Two years later, in 1929, more images showed the flooding of Beaufort house—where 7 officers were “quartered”—and were published alongside images of other damage to the town created by the most recent cyclone.60 The regular nature of such commentary, however, also ensured the need to reassure staff, current and future, that the work places and residences the bank provided in the tropical north were not only climatically comfortable but also cyclone safe and secure.

Coolness, convenience and comfort, and protection against cyclone61

  • 61 Letter from L. K. Adams, op. cit. (note 54).
  • 62 Ibid., p. 10.

32The combination of comfort and security was a concern for staff of the bank who took up a tropical posting in the 1920s. In 1927, L. K. Adams, acting manager for the Townsville Branch of the Commonwealth Bank, located four hours south of Cairns, wrote to the head office in Sydney regarding the bank’s promise to provide married country managers with a purpose-built residence. Noting that no such accommodation existed in Townsville, he offered to sell his own house to the bank when his two-year posting concluded. Describing the house as the most “suitable for coolness, convenience and comfort” he also explained that the property was architect-designed and supervised and carefully built for “protection against cyclone.”62

  • 63 Ibid., p. 3.
  • 64 Ibid., p. 3-4.

33The Bank, Adams argued, lagged behind many of its competitors in providing accommodation for its staff. Adams suggested that when such properties were finally provided, they should, in view of the fact that they were to be the manager’s permanent residence, and in order to fit with the Bank’s emerging ideal of tropical comfort, conform to all or as many as possible of the following requirements. These accommodations “must be in the coolest situation possible, subject to both northern and southern breezes” and “with a good outlook.” Homes should be located in a “select residential locality,” near “schools, high schools and churches,” and the “beach and bath. It should “not be too old… but as new as possible, and one which has been properly constructed and bolted preferably to an Architect’s plans and specification and under his supervision.” It is the old house, he observed, and “those that are not properly constructed and bolted that specifically feel the effect of cyclones as was the case in Cairns recently.”63 He concluded by suggesting the residence should not be far from the bank chambers, so that the manager could go home for his lunch at midday—“a very desirable feature in this climate,”—and that the manager could walk to and from work. The last condition recalls Cilento’s earlier call for a non-sedentary lifestyle and the need to maintain physical activity in order to successfully acclimatize. 64

  • 65 Ibid., p. 5.

34When taken in combination Adams’s requirements immediately excluded particular parts of town—“the North Ward, except town end, West End, Hermit Park and South Townsville”—and narrowed the desirable localities to “Melton Hill, The Strand (town end), North Ward (town end) and Stanton Hill.”65 However, even in these locations, he acknowledged, the large majority of houses only received breezes from the north or south:

  • 66 Ibid., p. 5.

And it is in the places that receive both these breezes that are cool all year round, and these properties which also nearly all have the great additional benefit of an easterly aspect are very limited and taken up by permanent residents, whose properties are not for sale.66

35The remainder of the letter described the attributes of his own house, built on Stanton Hill (one of the preferred locations) which unsurprisingly also possessed all the attributes Adams associated with the ideal Manager’s house. He explained that he built the house when he first came to Townsville due to the lack of suitable housing for himself and his family.

  • 67 Ibid., p. 7.

As you are aware it is practically impossible for married officers to secure unfurnished residences here, and this is one the main reason that married men are so very loath to bring their wives and families to Townsville to live in the wretched conditions such as I was compelled to place my wife and family in for the first eight months of my sojourn here.67

36He also acknowledged that to build independently was something that he undertook at great financial risk to himself and his family.

  • 68 Ibid., p. 7.

As officers are only transferred for two years it is hardly fair for married officers who in order to secure unfurnished house accommodation, are compelled to take the financial risk of buying or building residences in which to live, with the knowledge that within the space of two to three years the properties will have to be sold.68

  • 69 Ibid., p. 9.

37The priorities in the construction of his own home, he went on to explain, were to design a house that responded to Townsville’s tropical climate and offered the psychological comfort that came with a with a house that was cyclone proof. The combination of these two elements could only be achieved under the supervision of a local architect.69

  • 70 Ibid., p. 9.
  • 71 Letter from L. K. Adams to the Governor, op. cit. (note 54), p. 10.

38An added series of extras ensured comfort in the tropical climate. A tank stand and 1000-gallon tank collected water and was connected to the kitchen; the area underneath the house was boarded to provide shade and a cool retreat for the household; and the provision of a cool washhouse (also underneath the house) with a large bench seat, set in tub and copper, and space for drying clothes and avoided the “grossly hot and ill ventilated” workspaces that had earlier been described by Cilento.70 Also included was an enamel bath, shower, and wash basin, plumbed water—“which very few houses have, but most desirable where there are children or babies in the family”— and a Sydney Metter’s gas stove. Electric lights were installed and a point for the iron. All glass in the house was “white Artic,” taps were nickel and windows were casements or French windows and of extra-large dimensions to assist air circulation. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there was a detached “E.C.” or “Septic system.” The detached system was common to the region as supply of water to the house could not be guaranteed. The importance of a septic system was reinforced by Adams with the observation that the manager of the Commercial Bank had recently reported that his children had come down with typhoid fever, due, he thought, to an inferior and incomplete septic system.71

  • 72 Ibid., p. 8. Dimensions of each room included in the letter.

39Enclosed in his letter was a simple plan of the house (fig. 13) on which he had shown the alterations that would be needed if the house was purchased by the bank; this included an extra bedroom (shown in red). On completion, the house would comprise 6 rooms: a kitchen, bathroom and laundry, a living and dining area, and two good bedrooms, of generous proportions, and surrounded by a verandah.72 The plan, description, and thorough listing of fittings clearly articulate Adams’s understanding of what was needed to achieve comfort in a tropical climate.

Figure 13: Townsville House (private) of Acting Bank Manager, Commonwealth Bank, Townsville, c.1925.

Figure 13: Townsville House (private) of Acting Bank Manager, Commonwealth Bank, Townsville, c.1925.

Source: An archival resource of the Commonwealth Bank in the custody of the Reserve Bank of Australia (Sydney, Australia), RBA Archives BP-27-4.

Conclusion

40Adams’s letter was dismissed by head office, which argued that Townsville did not qualify for a manager’s residence because the present manager was a bachelor (despite the fact that the acting manager, Adams, was not). His detailed, ten-page letter, however, does demonstrate what he, and presumably his fellow workers, perceived “tropical comfort” to be—coolness, hygiene, and safety or the protection against cyclone—and how these ideals were entangled with the new buildings built by the bank (or its staff), both commercial and residential, in Northern Queensland. While cross-ventilation and shade (coolness) and hygiene (complete systems of sanitation) have long been recognized as key elements of architecture in the humid tropics, the emphasis given to safety or disaster, and more specifically cyclones and floods, is unusual in architecture in Australia in the 1920s. A logical explanation for this phenomenon is the number and severity of tropical cyclones experienced in the area during (and around) this period and the need for formal building codes and regulation to ensure building resilience. An additional rationale is found in contemporary debates by Cilento and others that challenged the idea of an unproductive and empty north and its successful settlement and future development by white communities.

Figure 14 (a-b): Commonwealth Bank, Cairns (Australia), 1949 renovations.

Figure 14 (a-b): Commonwealth Bank, Cairns (Australia), 1949 renovations.

Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank Archives, CBAGA: S0009, 1BP-2-108-5.

  • 73 An additional story was added to the building sometime between 1927 and 1933. A later plan of the (...)
  • 74 Letter from Mr. Armitage to Mr. J. B. Chifley, Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Treasurer, Com (...)
  • 75 “Erection of New Buildings for the Commonwealth Bank: Will be of Special Tropical Design,” Cairns (...)

41By 1952, however, the ideal of tropical comfort, appears to have changed again. In 1922, the focus of the bank, in both the popular and professional (banking) press, was the building’s “cyclone proof” construction, the strength and workmanship of its timber frame, and its concrete foundation which not only pinned the building to the ground but also elevated the building above the ground floor and flood level recorded in the 1920 storm surge. However, in 1952, when the bank was renovated (figs. 14a and b), the priorities of the tropical design appear to have changed.73 Certain specific features of the bank’s tropical design were carefully retained. Air circulation and cooling remained a priority, demonstrated by the addition of louvers to the closed verandahs and the retention of the numerous exhaust vents which drew air into and through the building. The features that had previously referenced cyclones, however, including the timber frame and concrete foundations, while retained, were no longer visible, and in many instances, carefully concealed. The concrete foundations and different levels between the street and the ground floor of the bank were covered in stone, while the timber building was veiled in brick (fig. 15). This may have been in response to a decline in cyclones or storm surges in the area or of their severity. A more probable explanation, however, were shifting conceptions of comfort in the tropics. The 1952 renovation, it can be argued, now responded to what the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank had described (and in response to criticisms from the Australian prime-minister) as the inability of the Cairns citizen to take civic pride in a wooden building.74 Representing what the manager of the Cairns branch described as “modern tropical design which would satisfy the civic pride of the Cairns’ citizen,”75 the 1952 renovation could now be seen as a response not to disaster, flood, and cyclone—events that had been perceived as threatening the very viability of a white settlement in the Australia tropics in the 1920s—but as addressing the new priorities of a now long established and thriving community, including civic pride, the tropical citizen, and the widespread acceptance of his or her settlement in the tropical north of Australia.

Figure 15: Commonwealth Bank, Cairns (Australia), 1952 renovations.

Figure 15: Commonwealth Bank, Cairns (Australia), 1952 renovations.

Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank Archives, CBAGA: S0009, 1BP-2-108-5.

Haut de page

Notes

1 William Coote, “The Influence of Climate on our Domestic Architecture, Paper read by Mr. W. Coote, at the Monthly meeting of the Queensland Philosophical Society, Brisbane, November 4th 1862,” Transactions of the Philosophical Society of Queensland, vol. 1, 1859-1872, p. 1-7. URL: https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/198582#page/71/mode/1up. Accessed 2 February 2021; Alex Brown Wilson “Domestic Architecture for Tropical and Subtropical Australia,” Volume of Proceedings of the Second Australian Town Planning Conference and Exhibition (Brisbane Qld, 30th July to 6th August 1918), Government Printer: Brisbane, 1918, p. 143; Karl Langer, Sub-Tropical Housing, St Lucia: The University of Queensland, 1944.

2 “Cairns Branch, New Building,” Bank Notes, Monthly Newsletter of the Commonwealth Bank, December 1922.

3 “Cyclone Proof: The new Commonwealth Bank in Cairns,” Northern Herald, 22 November 1922, p. 36.

4 Townsville is 347 km south of Cairns. The most southern Australian state (and former colony) is Tasmania, which is located 419 km from Melbourne across the Bass Strait.

5 Henry Thomas Buckle, “Chapter II,” in History of Civilization in England, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012 (1857) (Cambridge Library Collection), vol. 1, p. 36-137. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139094528.

6 Rob Dusting and Sandi Robb, “Extreme beginnings: the effect of cyclones on the development of Innisfail, Far North Queensland,” Proceeding of the symposium Extreme Heritage (Townsville, James Cook University, 19-21 July 2007), p. 1-13: URL: https://www.aicomos.com/wp-content/uploads/sandirobb.pdf. Accessed 4 May 2020.

7 Mark Harrison, Climates and Constitutions: Health, Race and Environment and British Imperialism in India 1700-1850, Oxford; New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999.

8 The shift to free settlement was made necessary by the cessation of convict transportation from Britain which first occurred in the colony of NSW (temporarily) followed by Queensland (the focus of the current paper) in 1841. Andrew Garran (ed.), The Picturesque Atlas of Australasia, Sydney: The Picturesque Publishing Company, 1886, vol. 1 et 2.

9 Moreton Bay (present day Brisbane) was established in 1824 as a “site of secondary punishment” intended for the so-called “incorrigibles” convict men and women resentenced by local courts. Over a thousand kilometers from Sydney, it was chosen as a place of punishment where field labor could be intensified, and escape made extremely difficult. Advocates for the plan argued that the “least hospitable place should be the receptacle for the worst offenders.” On their arrival, the administrators of the British penal colony confronted the indigenous owners of the land, the Turrbal, Undanbi and Ninghi-Ninghi peoples. Raymond Evans, A History of Queensland, Cambridge, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 25-50.

10 Thomas Griffith Taylor, “Australia’s Future Population,” The Morpeth Review, no. 4, June 1928; Idem, “The Australian Tropics,” News Bulletin (Institute of Pacific Relations), January 1927, p. 5-6.

11 Ibid., p. 5-6; “Australia’s Millions: Where Will they Settle? Professor Taylor on the Future of Australia,” Daily Witness, 12 May 1924, p. 2; Thomas Griffith Taylor, “Tropical Problems: Climate, Health and Settlement,” Argus, 14 October 1922, p. 11.

12 For an overview of the debate see: David Walker, “The Curse of the Tropics,” in Tim Sherratt, Tom Griffiths, and Libby Robin (eds.), A Change in the Weather. Climate and Culture in Australia, Canberra: National Museum of Australia Press, 2005, p. 94; Warwick Anderson, The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health and Racial Destiny in Australia,Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2002.

13 “Character and Race,” Brisbane Courier, 8 February 1896, p. 4.

14 R. W. Cilento, The White Man in the Tropics, with Especial Reference to Australia and its Dependencies, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia Department of Health, 1925 (Service Publication, Tropical Division, 7), p. 72-73. Cilento’s views were mainstream when written, especially within the medical profession, and reinforced the idea of a monocultural and “white” Australia put forth by legislation enacted in 1901, with the introduction of the Immigration Restriction Act (1901), the Pacific Island Labourers Act (1901) and Post and Telegraph Act (1901). The racist foundations to Cilento’s theories are now fully acknowledged.

15 Ibid., p. 5.

16 Ibid.

17 Raymond Evans, A History of Queensland, op. cit. (note 9), p. 173-175; Warwick Anderson, The Cultivation of Whiteness, op. cit. (note 12), p. 86-91.

18 R. W. Cilento, The White Man in the Tropics, op. cit. (note 14), p. 5.

19 Ibid., p. 50.

20 Ibid., p. 74.

21 Ibid., p. 73-74.

22 Raymond Evans, A History of Queensland, op. cit. (note 17), p. 97-99.

23 W. A. Osborne, “The Physiological Factors on the Development of an Australian Race,” The Medical Journal of Australia, 18 September 1920, p. 261-267.

24 R. W. Cilento, The White Man in the Tropics, op. cit. (note 14), p. 39.

25 Ibid., p. 124.

26 The Commonwealth Bank, a government-owned enterprise, was established in 1911.

27 See image of Cairns in Bank Notes, August 1933.

28 Sydney (Australia), Reserve Bank Archives: Sydney/AC-a-2, Actuary’s Amalgamation Negotiation, Governments Savings, Bank Of Queensland, 1912-1920.

29 “Cairns Branch,” Bank Notes, October 1921, n. p.

30 Letter from the State Government Insurance Office to Sir Denison Miller, Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, June 8th 1920, Sydney (Australia), Reserve Bank of Australia Archives: Sydney/CS-a-7-1920-25.

31 Sydney (Australia), Reserve Bank of Australia Archives: Cairns/CS-a-7-1920-25, Memorandum, Bank Premises (not dated). As the letter references the Cairns cyclone (February 2nd 1920), it is probable it was written in 1920, early 1921.

32 “Cyclone Proof: The new Commonwealth Bank in Cairns,” op. cit. (note 3), p. 36.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid.

38 “Cairns,” Bank Notes, May 1924, p. 7.

39 “Cyclone in the North. Port Douglas Practically Demolished. Extensive Damage at Cairns,” Warwick Daily News (Qld), 5 February 1920, p. 5; “Disastrous Cyclone: Cairns and Back Country Devasted: Chillagoe and Port Douglas suffered severely: Several other towns affected. £60, 000 damage at Cairns,” Queenslander, 14 February 1920, p. 12; “Tidal Wave at Cairns,” Port Macquarie’s News and Hastings River Advocate, 7 February 1920, p. 4.

40 “Havoc in the North. Damage, £150,000. Horseman Washed Away,” Telegraph (Brisbane), 6 February 1920, p. 4.

41 Ibid.

42 Ibid.

43 Ibid.

44 Ibid.

45 Juvena, “Women suffer the Most,” (Women”s Column) Northern Herald (Cairns, Qld), 11 February 1920, p. 43.

46 Ibid.

47 Ibid.

48 “Appeal for Churches Destroyed,” Argus, 9 March 1920, p. 8.

49 C. F. Cusson, St Johns Church, Cairns Golden Jubilee, 1927-1977, Cairns: St. John’s Church, 1977; Cairns Post, 26 June 1926, p. 4.

50 URL: http://hardenup.org/umbraco/customContent/media/627_Cairns_Cyclone_1927.pdf. Accessed 18 November 2019.

51 R. Dusting and S. Robb, “Extreme beginnings: the effect of cyclones on the development of Innisfail, Far North Queensland,” op. cit. (note 6), p. 6-7. URL: https://www.aicomos.com/wp-content/uploads/sandirobb.pdf. Accessed 4 May 2020.

52 Ibid., p. 6-7. Dusting and Robb argue that continuing amendments to the Act in 1924, 25, 27 and 29 resulted in significant improvements to the structural resilience of commercial and public buildings and reduced damaged caused by storm surges and floods. In other areas, however, complacency often snuck in when building inspectors didn’t maintain standards. In April 1958 the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported “Mr. Hansen, who is in charge of reconstruction work following the 1958 and 59 cyclones said he felt the looseness of local authority building by laws, which allowed people to put up almost anything, was responsible in many cases for the heavy damage incurred” (p. 7, note 50). It wasn’t until 1974, when Cyclone Tracey destroyed over 70% of homes in Darwin (Northern Territory) that amendments to the Building Code for domestic houses were also suggested. In 1982 the Queensland Home Building Code was introduced in response to the extensive damage experienced with this event. Provisions set out in the code were aimed at constructing buildings designed to resist stress. They were also complemented by a set of manuals formulated by the Timber Research and Development Advisory Council of Queensland which gave details for bracing walls, hollow concrete masonry construction, and roofing.

53 R. W. Cilento, White Man in the Tropics, op. cit. (note 14); Thomas Griffith Taylor, “Tropical Problems: Climate, Health and Settlement,” op. cit. (note 11), p. 11.

54 Letter from L. K. Adams, acting manager of the Townsville Branch to the Governor, Commonwealth Bank, Sydney, on residences for country manager, 11 March 1927, Sydney (Australia), Reserve Bank of Australia Archives: Sydney/BP-27-4, Bank Premises Permanent, Townsville 1921-1927, p. 6-7.

55 “Cairns,” Bank Notes, December 1924, p. 36. Due to their European origin, Southern Italians were allowed to enter Australia and were protected by the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation between the United Kingdom and Italy of 1883. However, fears that Southern Italians were taking over the sugar industry in Northern Queensland and would not assimilate resulted in a “racialized” discourse that put them at the “bottom of the Australian totem pole,” just above the Aboriginals, following the eviction of Asian and Pacific Islanders from Australia by the White Australia Policies (1901). Taking up the work of deported Pacific Islanders in Queensland’s cane fields, Southern Italians were labelled “Black” due to the earlier association of this work with colored labour. See Catherine Dewhirst, “The ‘Southern’ Question in Australia: the 1925 Royal Commission’s Racialisation of Southern Italians,” Queensland History Journal, vol. 22, no. 4, February 2014, p. 316-332.

56 “Italians in North Queensland,” Queensland Historical Atlas: histories, cultures, landscapes. URL: https://www.qhatlas.com.au/content/italians-queensland Accessed: 28 November 2020.

57 “Cairns,” Bank Notes, December 1922, n. p.

58 “Cairns,” Bank Notes, April 1921, n. p.

59 “Cairns,” Bank Notes, March 1927, p. 22.

60 “Stubborn Strongroom Door,” Bank Notes, June 1929, p. 33.

61 Letter from L. K. Adams, op. cit. (note 54).

62 Ibid., p. 10.

63 Ibid., p. 3.

64 Ibid., p. 3-4.

65 Ibid., p. 5.

66 Ibid., p. 5.

67 Ibid., p. 7.

68 Ibid., p. 7.

69 Ibid., p. 9.

70 Ibid., p. 9.

71 Letter from L. K. Adams to the Governor, op. cit. (note 54), p. 10.

72 Ibid., p. 8. Dimensions of each room included in the letter.

73 An additional story was added to the building sometime between 1927 and 1933. A later plan of the building dated 1949, (figs. 14 a and b) also indicates that the upper level, conforming to bank tradition, provided accommodation for the bank manager and his family. Accommodation consisted of four bedrooms, a lounge and dining room, kitchen, laundry and bathroom. Balconies and a drying yard, opened to the exterior, which surrounded the residence on three sides. A corner of the first floor was reserved for a lunchroom for the bank’s workers and included a small kitchen, change rooms and 2 toilets. It was connected to the banking chamber below by internal stairs.

74 Letter from Mr. Armitage to Mr. J. B. Chifley, Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Treasurer, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra/ACT 5.3.1946, Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank Archives: Sydney/1BP-2-108-1, Major Building Construction.

75 “Erection of New Buildings for the Commonwealth Bank: Will be of Special Tropical Design,” Cairns Post, 18 August 1951.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Commonwealth Bank, Cairns (Australia), 1922, Corner of Abbott and Spence Street.
Crédits Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0009, 1BP-2-108-5.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 4,3M
Titre Figure 2: Climographs for Australia showing how the localities approach the four types a discomfort. The shade climographs show the most habitable for the white race.
Crédits Source: Thomas Griffith Taylor, “Geographical factors controlling the settlement of tropical Australia,” Queensland Geographical Journal, vol. 32-33, no. 18-19, 1918.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 406k
Titre Figure 3: “Sure Proof of a White Race Living and Thriving in the Queensland Tropics. Group of Sugar Growers and Families, Innisfail, North Queensland.”
Crédits Source: plate 33 of Sunny Queensland: Its Scenic Charms, Industrial Activities, and Tropical Grandeur, Brisbane: Government Printer, 1926, n.p. Image courtesy of Fryer Library, The University of Queensland, St Lucia (Australia).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 4,5M
Titre Figure 4: Typical tropical-born Queenslander of third resident generation.
Crédits Source: R. W. Cilento, The White Man in the Tropics With Especial Reference to Australia and its Dependencies, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia Department of Health, 1925 (Service Publication, Tropical Division, 7), fig. 7, p. 73.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 601k
Titre Figure 5: First Commonwealth Bank Building, formerly Queensland State Savings Bank, Cairns (Australia), 1921.
Crédits Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, IBP-2-108-5[2].
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,6M
Titre Figure 6: Bank Notes, October 1921. Building moved to temporary site showing temporary external blinds/curtains.
Crédits Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0270, 1ST-23-1-35.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,2M
Titre Figure 7: Commonwealth Bank Building, Cairns (Australia), 1921, under construction.
Crédits Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0009, 1BP-2-108-5.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 4,7M
Titre Figure 8a: Commonwealth Bank Archives, Sydney (Australia). Interior 1949.
Crédits Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0009, 1BP-2-108-5.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M
Titre Figure 8b: Commonwealth Bank Archives, Sydney (Australia). Banking counter 1949.
Crédits Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0009, 1BP-2-108-5.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 6,4M
Titre Figure 9: 1920, English, Photograph edition: Tidal wave waters in Abbott Street, Cairns (Australia), after cyclone.
Légende Tidal wave waters in Abbott Street, Cairns (Australia), after cyclone, showing boats sheltering in temporary havens. People congregate in the street and wade through the waters. A horse drawn carriage passes in front of the shops on the left. Some tree-damage is seen on the right (Description supplied with photograph).
Crédits Source: Brisbane (Australia), State Library of Queensland, oai:bishop.slq.qld.gov.au:167207. Former digital ID: picqld-2003-03-11-13-20. Negative number: 15809.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,2M
Titre Figure 10: Bank Notes, March 1927, showing destruction of most recent cyclone in Cairns.
Crédits Source: Australia (Sydney), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0270, 1ST-23-1-100.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,8M
Titre Figure 11: “Cairns,” Bank Notes, December 1924.
Crédits Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0270, 1ST-23-1-73, p. 36.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 3,1M
Titre Figure 12: “Cairns,” Bank Notes, December 1922.
Crédits Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank of Australia, CBAGA: S0270, 1ST-23-1-49.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre Figure 13: Townsville House (private) of Acting Bank Manager, Commonwealth Bank, Townsville, c.1925.
Crédits Source: An archival resource of the Commonwealth Bank in the custody of the Reserve Bank of Australia (Sydney, Australia), RBA Archives BP-27-4.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,3M
Titre Figure 14 (a-b): Commonwealth Bank, Cairns (Australia), 1949 renovations.
Crédits Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank Archives, CBAGA: S0009, 1BP-2-108-5.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 14M
Titre Figure 15: Commonwealth Bank, Cairns (Australia), 1952 renovations.
Crédits Source: Sydney (Australia), Commonwealth Bank Archives, CBAGA: S0009, 1BP-2-108-5.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/9243/img-16.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1005k
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Référence électronique

Deborah van der Plaat, « Comfort in Australia’s unproductive North and the attendant anxiety of tropical cyclones »ABE Journal [En ligne], 18 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2021, consulté le 28 janvier 2023. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/abe/9243 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/abe.9243

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Deborah van der Plaat

Senior Lecturer, School of Architecture, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

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